The Afghanistan Mirror publisher says that when Zahir Shah returned to Kabul in 2002 to serve the last five years before his death as a figurehead next to Karzai, Nouri was not at his side. Hashemeyan blamed political differences. “Since the Karzai government,” he says, “Nouri has not been involved in Afghan politics.”

Miskinyar disagrees, saying Nouri “was and still is very involved in Afghanistan affairs.”

Indeed, despite being a staunch Republican who contributes to local candidates and receives awards for his party service from the likes of Tom DeLay, Nouri has consistently criticized the Bush administration for being too stingy with aid and attention to Afghanistan while massive resources are poured into more strategically located—and oil-rich—Iraq.

John Gilhooley
Hasan Nouri stands before the watershed he had a plan to fix in 1982
John Gilhooley
Hasan Nouri stands before the watershed he had a plan to fix in 1982

As Karzai seemed to be losing his grip on the country in the summer of 2003, Nouri told Congress, “Now we are beginning to see the Afghan people protesting in the streets of Kabul. It is very sad that it has come to this, only one year after seeing them dance in the streets and welcome American liberation from the Taliban. Lack of proper support by the United States, coupled with ineffective government in Afghanistan, has resulted in the loss of hope by the Afghan people.”

*     *     *

Laguna Beach eco-activist Roger Butow’s frustratingly long battle to shame government regulators into removing pollution from Aliso Creek and Beach is summed up in his nonprofit organization’s name, Clean Water Now!

“When I first got involved in this, I heard about Hasan, who was this legendary figure who had the real science on the creek,” Butow says over a Nov. 10 lunch with Nouri at King’s Fish House in Laguna Hills. “Then I met him, and he was a regular guy. I heard him speak and thought, ‘This is a guy who sounds like me.’”

That may frighten bureaucrats, elected officials and other environmentalists who’ve found themselves on the receiving end of a Butow tongue-lashing. Though he is as passionate as Butow is about stabilizing Aliso Creek, Nouri’s style is more gentlemanly. He moved from the Atlanta area to Pasadena in 1975 to take a job with the civil-engineering firm Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM). The Mission Viejo Co. subsidiary Jack G. Raub Co. hired CDM in 1981 to examine the creek, and Nouri got the assignment as his expertise centered on the management of sediments. Sediments are important because they help naturally carve channels, manage their flows and, by the time they reach the shore, create sand. The appearance of “head cuts”—vertical drop-offs that resemble waterfalls in creek beds—indicated a problem with the flow of sediments.

With the help of his mentor, California Institute of Technology professor emeritus and ASCE co-founder Vito A. Vanon, Nouri produced a 1.5-inch-thick study titled “Sediment Discharge and Mechanics of Aliso Creek” that identified 33 stabilization points from the creek’s Leisure World boundary in what is now Laguna Woods to the Ben Brown Golf Course in Laguna Beach. That’s the report collecting dust on a shelf.

The county in 1993 hired Nouri’s own engineering firm, Rivertech Co. of Laguna Hills, to come up with a plan to manage sediment damage in the creek. He called for the creation of wetlands along creek banks to filter runoff and allow cleaner water to flow to the ocean. Unfortunately, that report was also shelved amid the county’s 1994 bankruptcy. No studies have been as comprehensive as Nouri’s in improving the watershed’s overall health, Butow maintains. And here’s the kicker: Nouri estimated it would have cost $10 million to make his plans a reality back in the early ’80s. Watershed-management officials are now scrambling to come up with $45 million for just one short stretch of the creek, says Butow.

“If they’d done what he said 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Butow says. “That’s why I find this so frustrating. It’s like building a house. They had the plans to do the building. They just never did it.”

It was Butow’s incessant prodding that landed Nouri a spot on the agenda for the Aliso Creek watershed-management-group meeting, at which he advised flattening the creek’s slope at key points he’d identified to manage sediment flows.

“I thought Mr. Nouri’s presentation was very useful for the Aliso Creek stakeholders,” Mary Anne Skorpanich, the director of Orange County’s Watersheds Program, tells the Weekly.

“One of the major problems with Aliso Creek is substantial erosion, particularly within Aliso and Woods Canyon Regional Park,” Skorpanich says. “Mr. Nouri’s presentation helped the stakeholders understand the dynamics of stream systems that must be considered in any solution for the creek’s problems. He presented a complex set of interrelationships in a manner easily understood by the layperson.”

Skorpanich would not comment on Nouri’s study 27 years ago for the Mission Viejo Co. because she has not read it. But she does not deny he might have been onto something. “Mr. Nouri is a recognized expert in his field and known for high-quality work.”

*     *     *

Nouri removes his sport coat to expose his suspenders and tie before speaking on “Reinventing Hoover Dam” Oct. 29 at the 2008 H2O Conference in Long Beach presented by CalCoast, a nonprofit advocacy group composed of 35 coastal cities, five counties, various regional-planning agencies and associated business associations. His Rivertech has worked all over the world, both for and against developers, sometimes being enlisted by environmental groups prodding builders to adhere to procedures less invasive on natural habitats. He was among the original engineers who long ago abandoned concrete flood-control channels in favor of naturally filtering reeds, grasses, cattails, retention ponds and other wetlands systems for ocean-bound runoff, rainwater and flood waters. He co-authored an article that argued grass-lined flood channels could provide protection from 100-year storms and serve as recreational open space during dry weather—something now hailed as revolutionary.

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